Dr Nina Singh from Odisha’s Balasore district was one of the first few farmers in India to do pearl farming.
The year was 2014 and Nina had just left her two-year-old corporate job. A PhD in Zoology, Nina previously worked as an Odisha Administrative Officer for 12 years.
After working in two very diverse professions, she was not afraid to take the risk on pearl farming despite knowing the drawbacks including lack of information and case studies.
She took on the challenge, invested Rs 2 lakh and started growing pearls in a concrete tank placed in her backyard. For the first two years, she barely made any income but from the third year onwards it picked up.
At present, her earnings from pearl farming fall anywhere between Rs 10-12 lakhs annually from six of her ponds. Besides, she also generates revenue from breeding fish underneath the pearl.
By using the space judiciously, her annual income stands at Rs 20 lakh, something that she did not fathom when she began.
Although she took a course on ‘Freshwater Pearl Farming for Entrepreneurship Development’ at Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture (CIFA) in Bhubaneswar, she was able to make farming successful only through trial and error.
“Today, anyone can acquire technical information from the internet but there is still a huge difference when you do it practically. Pearl farming is an extremely slow and tedious process which requires a lot of patience. The maintenance is a lot, mortality rate is high and it takes 1.5 years for one pearl to form. So, if you are a beginner do not make this your primary source of income,” Nina tells The Better India.
Nina had saved enough, thanks to her illustrious career, and once she was confident of pearl farming, she added fish breeding in 2017.
Having learnt about the marine ecosystem in detail during her post graduation, Nina knew that the two can thrive together.
Twin benefits of pearls and fishes
Nina made a 10×6 feet artificial concrete tank and purchased equipment like surgery items, medicines, ammonia meter, pH meter, thermometer, medicines, antibiotics, mouth opener and pearl nucleus.
She got plankton, on which aquatic species survive, food for the mussels.
Explaining the process, she says, “The mussels are kept in fresh water for 24 hours before shifting them to the pond. Monitor their food habits, survival rate, aeration, water level, etc, for the next 2-3 weeks. Once you identify their growth pattern, enter the next phase which is inserting the nucleus inside mussels. I give shapes like Ganesha, flowers, and animals to the nucleus inside the mould before inserting them into the mussels.”
Nina keeps the mussels in fruit trays that are placed 3 feet inside the pond. The end of the trays are tied with ropes. The other end of the rope is tied with poles to keep them floating.
A year later, the nucleus gives a pearl sac collecting calcium carbonate from the mussel shells. The nucleus has several layers of coating that are nothing but exquisite pearls.
Meanwhile, through aquaculture she grows carp fishes. For the same, she removes the trays daily for two hours when tending to the fishes.
“The mussels act as a natural purifier for the fish waste. When the fish excreta starts decomposing, the plankton absorbs it. The plankton is eaten by the mussels. I also apply lime in the pond to increase productivity and boost a more healthy environment,” adds Nina.
With a mortality rate of 30-40%, Nina grows 10,000 pearls in one cycle and sells them via dealers. She also deals with the customers through her social media pages.
Popularising pearl farming
Nina, who has been felicitated by the CIFA for her tremendous efforts in popularising pearl farming, gives training on the same to farmers from various states like Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Today, she has trained close to 400 farmers.
At Rs 5,000 she provides a three-day course which includes both technical knowledge and practical experiments.
Narendra Kumar, a pearl farmer from Rajasthan’s Kishangarh region, is one of the farmers who took training from Nina in 2016.
He says, “After gaining basic knowledge from CIFA, I spent a few days at Nina’s farms. She taught me every step in detail for growing pearls in a concrete pond. Her practical demonstrations were easy and innovative. Once back at home, I replicated her steps. Today, I earn Rs 4 lakh through part time pearl farming.”
You can reach Nina here.
Edited by Yoshita Rao